Digital camera buyers and afficionados have long been confronted with some rather odd language in the reviews for digital cameras. How often have you read something like “[Brand] makes a great prosumer camera, but can they compete in the professional space?” The three main terms are “consumer,” “prosumer,” and “professional.” What exactly is meant by these three general descriptions?
In layman’s terms you can think of each like this:
- Consumer: Basic
- Prosumer: Advanced (or “mid-grade”)
- Professional: Expert
Consumer Digital Cameras
Digital cameras which are designed to have basic functionality are called “consumer” cameras. On consumer cameras, almost all functions are automatic, or what’s affectionately known as “nannied”. Very few if any features can be manually set. Instead, the user is presented with a selection of
modes of operation, such as “Sunset”, “Sport”, “Landscape” and of course “Auto” for all-environment shooting. Choosing one of these modes sets a number of camera features to operate correctly for the general type of photography being selected.
On a consumer camera, there are usually only a few functions that can be manually set – generally the setting for whether or not to use the flash, and the “close” focus setting (usually usually by an icon which resembles a flower). It is very rare to see the ability to set manual focus ability on a consumer digital camera, as that would be considered “difficult” by the camera manufacturers.
Finally, usually consumer-level digital cameras have only one, built-in, lens, and the camera is not equipped with the ability to switch out lenses.
Prosumer Digital Cameras
The next level up from consumer is prosumer, a made-up word combining “professional” and “consumer.” A prosumer camera is one which still fairly basic in terms of functionality, but which exposes more features to the control of the user, who is assumed to be more capable of making decisions about operating the camera.
In most prosumer cameras you will get some manual focus ability. However, this is a limited ability, because the range of focus is still limited due to the integrated camera lens which cannot be switched out on most prosumer models. In addition, the manual focus is usually controlled via means of a built-in menu rather than physically turning the lens in traditional fashion.
Most people will get the functionality and desired picture quality they want from a digital camera classified as prosumer. When shopping for a prosumer digital camera, most web sites will openly use “prosumer” as the classification for being the “next step” above consumer/basic.
Professional Digital Cameras
All professional digital cameras usually have the following characteristics:
- Full body with removable lens
- Fully adjustable optical manual focus
- All features can be set to manual or automatic
The components of a fully professional digital camera are separated purposely to allow the photographer more options. The body contains all the inner workings and electronic mechanisms. The lens is the actual camera lens that attaches to the body. Other items, such as the flash, may be separate components. You may notice a metal connecting rail on the top of the body for different types of flashes.
Typically, professional digital cameras are not user-friendly by design. They are meant for photographers who want absolute control over every aspect of their photos. While this may sound good at first, pro digital cameras are not “point and shoot” like consumer or prosumer cameras are. Granted, you can set up a professional camera to be “automatic”, but the point of having a fully professional setup is to have full control (i.e. to set up things manually). If this is not what you need, consider prosumer before professional.
Have any recommendations for great consumer, prosumer, or professional digital cameras? Share them with us below!